Thu, 1 July 2010
by BAR columnist Jared A. Ball, Ph.D.
There was both déjà vu and surprise at the U.S. Social Forum. Déjà vu, in the feeling of being caught up in a stultifying search for meaningless “consensus politics” with “no clear goals and no clear steps to reach them.” But there was also the excitement of “ideas, criticism, flyers, books, all forms of media in fact, all being passed back and forth, with a hurried fervor.”
Consensus Politics Are No Politics: A US Social Forum Diary
by BAR columnist Jared A. Ball, Ph.D.
“It was the concern voiced by several with whom I spoke that a vague desire at the forum for ‘consensus politics’ meant in the end ‘no politics.’”
I was only at this week’s U.S. Social Forum for two full days. It was electric, exciting, full of motion, color and exchange. Ideas, criticism, flyers, books, all forms of media in fact, all being passed back and forth, with a hurried fervor. It is always nice to see well-intentioned people trying to connect and have their concerns heard by others who are likely to at least be sympathetic. But there is also a struggle to find how we go from these events to something more. In the end these gatherings take on a feeling of a real life activist Facebook experience: massive righteous self-promotion nearly to the point of stagnation.
And for some this sense of stagnation is more serious. Going from excited interaction to the assumption of power seems to be our version of “the bridge to nowhere.” Especially when it seems as though every issue raised at this forum is old, even worsening, and the same as those raised at the first US Social Forum in 2007 and those earlier at World Social Forums or the World Conferences Against Racism in 2001 and 2009. It was the concern voiced by several with whom I spoke that a vague desire at the forum for “consensus politics” meant in the end “no politics.” No clear goals and no clear steps to reach them.
“There is a struggle to find how we go from these events to something more.”
But there we were in Detroit or “Destroyed” as Herb Boyd called it. And during a brief ride with my hosts Ollie Johnson and Lori Robinson who took Roberto Lovato and me around parts of the city we saw Boyd’s description in full effect. The emptiness of the city, the abandoned buildings and the poverty were all put in some context when Roberto told us that he had met folks at the forum from Juarez Mexico who were shocked at how similar a major U.S. city looked to their own. But out of that necessarily horrible comparison comes the potential linkages around which we can build.
I also did some work with Free Speech TV which covered a bulk of the forum. By conducting a few interviews for them I was able to hear about some interesting groups and efforts. There were anti-Zionist Israelis, pro-Arab Arabs, and good people working with the Youth Justice Coalition on youth incarceration in Los Angeles. And by simply being social at the “social forum” I got to meet Lynne Stewart’s partner Ralph Poynter and to see Claude Marks of the Freedom Archives who was there screening their recently completed film on the Counter Intelligence Program narrated by Cynthia McKinney. And speaking of my presidential candidate I also got to see again her running mate Rosa Clemente whose tremendous keynote speech on the legacy of hip-hop politics was given at the adjacent gathering of the Hip-Hop Congress national convention. With her and our colleagues in the Green Party Head-Roc, Anita Rios and David Cobb we discussed the future of the party which Cobb strongly suggests becomes the electoral outlet of those gathered at these kinds of events. As it stands now they obviously can no loner consider the Democratic Party as an option.
Cobb’s point was echoed albeit differently by my more nationalist comrades who each in their own way raised the question of building a political mechanism that currently does not exist. But that also leads to the equally powerful question of “how?”
For Black Agenda Radio, I’m Jared Ball. Online go to www.BlackAgendaReport.com.
Dr. Jared Ball can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.